Face and voice of the organisation

Wednesday, 6 April 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Many organisations, when thinking about the public face of the company or workplace, think about the Public Relations or Marketing Department or about the CEO, the managers or the business leaders.

They hardly appreciate what a huge benefit the receptionist is to the organisation and walk past the organisation’s public face every morning without realising the true worth of the professional receptionist who sits there at the front desk, greeting everyone with a bright smile every moment of the day.

Let me suggest to you that the company’s receptionist is just as important as all the other key positions in the company. In many companies, the receptionist is often the first point of contact for any incoming customer or caller has with that company.

It is often the receptionist’s role to ensure that all of these callers and customers are taken care of and that a good business image is given to the public. Remember, the customers/clients are announced to the back office or executive secretarial staff with the use of email or an intercom system which comes from the front desk receptionist.

Common biggest mistake companies make

Organisations tend to put the most junior and inexperienced person on reception, yet this can be a classic mistake. A new arrival doesn’t necessarily have a complete understanding of the phone system or any computer-based internal information system. In addition, if you’re a bit shy and find it hard to welcome visitors brightly and with a cheerful, helpful smile, they can feel just the opposite. As a result, visitors’ first impressions of your organisation can be of inefficiency and even ineptitude – not very confidence-inspiring.

A receptionist may:

  • Reflect the organisational culture of the company

She is usually the organisation’s public face and voice. A professional receptionist is an invaluable asset to any organisation. The receptionist is truly a manager in charge of first impressions, responsible for shaping the interactions that a customer will continue to have with the company.

Certainly the front office reception department reflects the organisational culture of the company. Therefore, the person holding the position of front desk receptionist does too. If a customer is treated poorly by the front-desk staff, it is likely that they will have a negative image of that company and may not return.

If a potential client arrives at the reception desk and is dealt with in an efficient manner by a smart and polite person, the client will naturally think that this approach is carried throughout the company.

  • Receptionist is the one who preserves confidentiality

A receptionist knows who is coming in or out of the building. She sees confidential papers, documents and letters that other staff members probably never see. A professional receptionist is discreet and never shares confidential information with anyone, either inside or outside the organisation.

She keeps such information to herself and never gossips about such things. She knows that gossip harms people and their careers and lives and that it is not for her to judge other people’s behaviour. The receptionist will build up an immense knowledge of the company and its customers which is a valuable asset and is one, which money cannot buy. He or she will become a trusted member of staff, which is a company’s biggest asset.

  • He or she has a pleasant personality

Receptionists should always have excellent manners and behaviour and be well groomed. She should treat everyone with good manners, respect and dignity and remain calm and collected even if the customer, visitor, staff member or telephone caller is anything but calm and collected. Receptionists are self reliant and resourceful and can come up with creative solutions to all sorts of difficulties.

The vital quality that a receptionist must possess is a tidy, well kept appearance with a helpful and polite approach. A receptionist who arrives at work looking dishevelled and with a body-odour problem will not do justice to the company. Visitors are at times waiting in the reception area before they are directed to meet the respective manager. During this waiting period, the body odour of the receptionist could make or break the mental composition of the visitor.

It will be prudent, in addition to a pleasant odour emanating from the receptionist, to have a light, pleasing odour in the reception area, either by ‘essence oil burn,’ ‘spray’ or ‘wick’. Receptionists deal with people all day long so they must enjoy working with them and possess a charming manner.

  • He or she is a marketer

Once a receptionist has been with the company for a while, he or she will start to build a rapport with clients, thus stimulating customer relations, which will in turn encourage repeat business. Clients will have faith in the receptionist and know that he or she is organised and efficient.

A professional receptionist will want to show high standards in her work, which will reflect back on the business. Firstly, she or he will promote the company’s professional image from the first point of contact and first impressions are vital. She must be vibrant, energetic and above all, charming/pleasant. Some companies have chosen to provide a uniform portray.

  • He or she is very efficient and multi tasking

Receptionists often work alone. In busy organisations there may be two or more receptionists. They come into contact with all types of visitors and deal with colleagues at all levels of their organisation. The position of a receptionist can be demanding and at times will require the receptionist to carry out more than one task at a time.

For instance, he or she may have to greet clients, customers and visitors, issue security passes, direct visitors to their meeting or appointment while answering telephone calls or managing a switchboard. Further, accepting deliveries, arranging taxis and other travel requirements for staff and visitors, offering refreshments, dealing personally with basic enquiries such as company contact details, keeping the reception area tidy and also doing other administrative functions. The job as a receptionist is more difficult than one would think. After hours of answering calls, initiating calls for connection, helping customers, concentrating on both short-term and long-term tasks, the job can really take a toll on any employee.

What is more, a receptionist does not have the luxury of unwinding stress during the working hours. She has to pack in her displeasure, frustration or, in certain cases, anger, so that the visitors will only see the surface expression, i.e., a pleasant, pleasing personality, speaking in a calm, controlled and pleasant manner and tone. If you thought that it was something easy and not worth worrying about, please start thinking again. Thus an organised manner is required whilst multi-tasking.

  • The receptionist has the ability to know how to deal with difficult situations and people

Receptionists have to deal with difficult situations or awkward clients from time to time, so diplomacy and sensitivity are also required. They literally have to think on their feet and deal with problematical situations and be able to resolve issues quickly and resourcefully. There are times when the receptionist has to deal with people who are very difficult either over the phone or in person.

It is however important to state that sometimes a receptionist would have no alternative than to terminate a call if the person at the other end is overly abusive. If the caller refuses to calm down, the receptionist would tell the person that they would have to terminate the call because of the behaviour of the caller and put the phone down.

  • Receptionists must control their reactions

Sometimes it’s very hard to control our natural reactions from influencing the way we deal with situations in the work place. Some people can become personally offending by the comments made by other and say things that they may regret at a later stage. Learning the correct phrases and answers to give in a situation will help the receptionist to gain respect from the other person, improve the chances of their comments taken on board and actions implemented.

  • Managing time efficiently

As discussed above, the role of the modern reception is expanding. As well as performing general reception duties, they are increasingly expected to undertake a wider range of other tasks to better support the organisation. In an environment like this, the person who looks after the reception area has to be very effective and efficient in his/ her performance.

Thus, s/he has to practice time and task management techniques. As one step the receptionist can create a database of key contacts, company information and policies, she can also use techniques to prioritise work. The receptionist may be required to be conversant with using IT systems.

Assertiveness techniques

Assertive receptionists are confident, stand up for their rights, establish the facts, enjoy their work and are not bulldozed by bullies. Assertiveness skills enable receptionists to make the best decisions for the organisation and themselves. They also defend the boundaries of their own work remit, i.e. ensure work is not unreasonably ‘offloaded’ on to them.

A receptionist with assertiveness skills would be great at questioning people to establish the relevant facts before they make a decision and will not be pressured into making a decision on the spot if they don’t feel comfortable to do so.

I remember my working experience at Beltam International n.v. in Antwerp, Belgium during 1985/86 where the receptionist was sealed away within an enclosure inside of the business working area so that she had the right to a decision whether to let the visitor in or keep the visitor seated in the outside area until a manager validated his/her entry.

The photograph (taken on my first day at work) shows the story. This is done for security reasons where in a particular circumstance, a customer may walk in with a murderous intention because a service or product sold has not kept to its promise. In such a case, the situation created can be very unpleasant for the receptionist to handle. Thus, being safely tucked away gives a greater sense of confidence and security to the receptionist who can then better perform her task. She has the freedom to decide to open the sliding glass and talk to the visitor or do the same through the PA system.

In conclusion, I would warn any enterprise not to take the role of the receptionist too lightly. It is of paramount importance to building of your corporate image and brand. You may talk about how motivated your staff is and how dynamic your business operation is, but one look at your receptionist will tell the true story. So I suggest that you do not fool yourself, but take the seriousness to hand and start acting.

(The writer is the Managing Director and CEO, McQuire Rens Group of Companies. He has held regional responsibilities of two multinational companies of which one was a Fortune 500 company. He carries out consultancy assignments and management training in Dubai, India, Maldives, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. He is a much sought-after business consultant and corporate management trainer in Sri Lanka.)

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